Misadventures with Miso

Misadventures with Miso

Friday, October 10, 2014

Water with Nodoguro

I decided since I haven't been out much this summer to see if Nodoguro could spin it's culinary magic a second time.

The theme for October was Water. Since this is Japanese cuisine the first thought is fish. The lovely painting of koi at the entrance also reminds us of this.

A koi mermaid imaginatively seconds that thought. Nodoguro's paintings are created by hostess Irena Roadhouse's father Alexander Kornienko. New ones appear for each theme and they add a lively air to each meal. Also Betta Fish floated in glass around the space and on top of the tables and bar. The decor gave a very nice feel for a watery environment.

Of course water is needed for so many things. The menu for the evening showed we would have more than fish. For without water we would have no plants.

As we were seated our chef Ryan Roadhouse was meticulously preparing the first course, grating matsutake mushroom. Zen was used as a word to describe his work but I think it's that attention to detail that is ingrained with chefs and other crafters in Japan. Every part of what is being created is important and one can spend years doing the same small task over and over before moving on to a more advanced one.

That Oregon matsutake ended up on top of charred Hakurei tofu with ikure. 

Underneath was creamy soft tofu flavored with charred turnip essence. This didn't even taste like tofu but more like milk. The  salmon roe was very fresh. Once again produce like the turnips were provided by Phantom Rabbit Farm.

Not  only does Mark Wooten of Phantom Rabbit Farm grow specialty produce for Japanese restaurants in Portland but he also is Ryan's right hand man in the kitchen.

 Next up was Hirame Usuzukuri which is flounder sliced thinly. Hirame is a seasonal fish served in the Fall and Winter. Ryan's preparation was to serve a slice from the fin and others from the body to demonstrate the differences in texture. This sashimi was delicate and wonderful.

We then experienced a very creative dish that paid homage to the water theme. Orca beans, scallop, uni and water pepper in a nice harmonious pouching liquid. Once again there were the different textures of the scallop added with the softness of the uni. I had never had water pepper before and it didn't take many little buds to bring a bit of spice to this dish.

Water isn't just fish and we were served a root vegetable sunomono. But it was not all root vegetables because there was a smoky seaweed at the base topped with sunchoke, turnip and kiwi berries. I like this kind of imaginative thinking that puts together new ingredients into a traditional dish. It worked really well with the vinegary flavor that sunomono has.

I've had air dried sanma before. I know it can end up being dry and salty. But not this time. Ryan salted and air dried the Pacific saury personally and then cooked it in the restaurant where it was served with citrus and grated karaine turnip from Phantom Rabbit Farm. What flavor! Definitely not dry or too salty. This was the best version of this dish I have ever had. It has inspired me to try cooking sanma soon. Although I know it won't be the same.

Clear broths are often served in traditional Japanese meals and we were able to experience a lovely matsutake osuimono. One thing I have learned is making dashi with different ingredients and getting the right balance is an art. Add in these nice matsutake and it was a treat to consume this taste of autumn.

While we were supping Ryan and Mark were busy plating our next treat.

And treat it was. Duck, soba and chrysanthemun leaves. I rarely eat meat except for fish but the way Nodoguro dishes it up, it's hard to decline. The duck was tender yet chewy and the flavor is another that I remember even today. It was excellent. The buckwheat groats were cooked with a little butter and oil and added an interesting texture and autumnal feeling. I felt like this was a dish one would find at a ryokan in rural Northern Japan. The bit of greens were a nice touch.

A break from the intense flavors followed with sweet dashi omelette. Tamagoyaki is considered a dish all sushi chefs need to master. So it's one way to see if a chef knows what he is doing. I've had a lot of it, some good, some not so good. Anyone who has made an omelette know it's not easy getting that fluffiness without breaking down the egg. Add in trying to achieve the right balance of sweet, salty and umami and you have Tamagoyaki. This time it was achieved wonderfully. Light and not too sweet or salty. I hope some day Ryan will hold classes on how to create this lovely omelette.

Nearing the end but the surprises were not over. We were served a chocolate and filbert beer float. An ingenious little dish suggested by Nodoguro's knowledgeable hostess Irena Roadhouse. Diners around me really enjoyed the effervescence of this chocolate ice cream and  filbert beer float. The bitterness of the beer kept the dish from being too sweet. Of course in Japan it's common to make sundaes out of unexpected things and this worked in an adult way.

The dinner ended with this lovely chestnut manju and a delicious cup of hojicha green tea. A very nice pairing to end this fall dinner.

What can I say? If you love Japanese food and live in the North West or will be visiting it's worth attending one of Nodoguro's dinners. It really is a treat to be able to experience fine Japanese dining, sosaku ryori, without having to fly to Japan. I wish I had tried Nodoguro sooner but better late than never.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Because of the great news today

I want to look back at a post I did a couple years ago on my art blog. So here is the link

Twin Peaks 20th Anniversary Art Show


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Farm to Boat Pop-up Dinner

Back in July I went to my first pop-up dinner in Portland, Oregon. In a rather interesting place on the Willamette River in the St. Johns neighborhood.



On a boat moored by Cathedral Park near St. Johns Bridge.

There were interesting and congenial guests including a couple furry ones.

The view was amazing.

Although being late afternoon in summer the sun was a bit warm and bright for those of us facing west.

The theme for the dinner was Farm to Boat. The boat belonged to Green Anchors Enterprises which is an interesting group of people farming, creating and living right there.

The farm part was bringing locally grown crops to be used in the dinner. These included Able Farms who was putting on the dinner, Nightlight Farm, Springwater Farm, and Rockwood Urban Farm. 

We started off with a Japanese ginger honey drinking vinegar from Genkai-Su which was reminiscent  to me of tart apples. It was a rather generous serving. Since we did not have other glasses it was a little bit of a challenge for me to finish it but I did.

Our chefs for the evening were Megan Denton of Able Farms

and Jane Hashimawari of Ippai.

Our first course was the albacore tuna crudo with golden beets, purslane topped with radish microgreens and sea salt. This was really delicious. I thought the radish sprouts were a nice way to add a little heat to the taste of the tender tuna.

We were offered a couple enjoyable wines by the entertaining Ewald Moseler. He is very knowledgeable about wine and specializes in the the Mosel River Valley area of Germany along with importing from all of Germany, Austria and exporting Oregon wines.

First up was a 2013 Zum Pinot Noir Rose from the Mosel River Valley. It was light and refreshing and went nicely with the fresh produce and delicate fish we were served. Later on we also had a lovely 2008 Riesling from WeingutVellenweider Winery also in the Mosel River Valley. It was a different profile from the usual Rieslings that are served and also delicious.

While we were eating not only did we enjoy good conversation but also different ships cruising by on the Willamette River.

Our next dish was also really good. The menu description was "NW style"- farm eggs, sardines, arbequina oil, castelvetrano olives, parsley, crescent potatoes, buckwheat microgreens. Although I think what was served was a bit different in that there were fresh tomatoes and green beans. The sardine was grated on top. No matter what the changes were, this was really good and was a lovely in between course. I would happily eat this again.

Next up was this excellent ling cod with pickled shitakes, savoy cabbage, miso buttered corn and sunflower microgreens.

I believe this was Jane Hashimawari dish and one of the few times I liked fresh greens under cooked fish. The pickled shitake mushrooms made a nice contrast to the tender fish and miso corn.

Just another photo of the wonderful view. Nice to have this and good conversation while we waited for each course to be served.

The dinner ended with these wonderful blueberries covered in Hyssop soft whip, currant jelly and nasturtiums.

Not just pretty but also sweet and light. This was served with a coffee from St. Johns Roasters. Since I am not a coffee drinker I could not say how it was but people seemed to enjoy it.

That was the end of an interesting experience. There were some issues but despite it all the food and drink were worth it and I met interesting people and was able to sit on a boat on the Willamette River for a bit. Not a bad experience at all.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nodoguro Pop-up's Totoro Dinner

One of my quests since moving to Oregon has been trying to find good Japanese food. Real Japanese food. While trying to avoid sushi roll places and trendy fads. But in Portland, some things become fads because there is some good in them. 

So when Ryan Roadhouse started Nodoguro Pop-up dinners I knew I would have to check it out. Because he has worked at Portland's notable sushi restaurants Masu and Bamboo. And it turns out a lot more places including time spent in Kyushu, Japan.

Here is Ryan preparing the first dish for the evening. Pop-up dinners are an interesting thing. Often they are created to go outside of the box of having a restaurant where dinners order from a menu. For now, each month at Nodoguro there is a theme which inspires the dishes which will be served. For September it was "My Neighbor Totoro" and other Hayao Miyazaki films. Which was the reason I decided to sit down for my second pop-up dinner.

Pop-up dinners are an interesting experience. You really are betting on the chef since one doesn't usually know the dishes that will be served when making a reservation and paying for the dinner. However most will try to accommodate dietary restrictions or at least state what they can do beforehand.

Since I had once enjoyed sushi prepared by Ryan at Masu and learned a little of his background with food I knew this would probably be a risk worth taking. Just seeing the little details of decor and place settings gave the feeling of rural (inaka) Japan, which was the setting for "My Neighbor Totoro".


One thing I noticed at the two pop-up dinners I attended is that because it's a smaller group of people who are there from start to finish it takes on the air of a dinner party.

Nodoguro is currently in the space that was Evoe. As part of their open kitchen they have two counters for preparing food. Here are plates waiting to hold our first treat from Phantom Rabbit Farm.

Behind us video from the movie was playing over a cute Totoro display.

First up was Phantom Rabbit Farm delicious fresh melon. Mark Wooten of Phantom Rabbit Farm was helping out with food preparation and offering information about what we were about to eat.

Ryan's first dish was Poached Octopus with Wasabi and Citrus. That is real wasabi which is nothing like that green stuff most places give. I rarely eat tako (octopus) but I did this time and can say it was tender and worked well with the poaching liquid.

Here is Ryan preparing our next dish.

Which was Tomato Oden with Ham and Eggs. That's egg yolk cream at the bottom and three year old aged ham from Phantom Rabbit Farm grated on top of the tomatoes. It may not look like much but this was really delicious. Even that little bit of ham provided immense flavor. I still remember how this dish taste and wish I knew how to make it because I'd love to eat it again.

Next up was Dungeness Crab and Fennel Sunomono with Uni wrapped in Kelp on top. The wakame at the bottom was shipped fresh from Japan. I was really looking forward to trying crab and fennel sunomono however the uni was a surprise. Another thing I have only tried once because it wasn't that good that time. However this was way above my prior experience.

Something I had heard of but never tried. Monkfish Liver (Ankimo) Torchon with Ground Cherry Miso. Make that two things I have not tried before. Ankimo is steamed and Nodoguro's version added ground cherries with miso as a sauce with a couple cherries on the side. Very unique.

It was difficult waiting for this. I was sitting right by these plates and the smell was wonderful.

It was Smoked Salmon and Nanban Carrots topped with Bachelor Buttons and Carrot Blossoms from Phantom Rabbit Farm. The salmon was smoked by Ryan after curing it in salt and then lees. Major umami going on here. I also liked how the rings on my piece lined up nicely with the rings on the plate.

That was followed by Ribs with Turnip, Miso and Walnut. Ryan's wife, who is hostess for Nodoguro, said this dish was a nod to the movie Spirited Away

In the movie the older daughter Satsuki makes a bento for each family member. Seeing a bento on the menu made me wonder what our bento would be like. This is the Salted Mackerel Bento with an Italian Plum. The rice was seasoned with salt and vinegar and it worked just right. Really the best bento I have ever had.

Heading toward the end we were served Tamago Sushi. Ryan is an experienced sushi chef and was busy with a knife and rice with this. But where is the rice?

He made cuts in each piece and stuffed the rice inside.

Almost through this delicious and well prepared meal we were served Acorn, Figs and Honey with popped Soba (buckwheat). Acorns from Totoro. As for the popped soba? I need to find out how to do this because it's another thing I want more of.

We ended with a Moon Manju, made with a lima bean center with red bean (azuki) surround. For the mochi pounding rabbit in the moon. Which I think was from Behind the Museum Cafe where the tea was from too.

As you can tell by the longer than usual post, I really enjoyed this dinner. Ryan Roadhouse is able to take good local ingredients and his knowledge of Japanese cooking and put it together to create a wonderful meal. If you are ever in Portland, Oregon, and want to experience this, check out Nodoguro's web page for reservation information. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.